Penn State

Michael Axtell - associate professor of biology, Penn State University Park

Book Title: The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Author: Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

Book Description:

I first read this book when I was 21 years old and about to finish my undergraduate degree in biology. Sagan's and Druyan's ideas crystallized for me many of the reasons why science, both as a career and a philosophy, were and are so attractive to me: its inherent iconoclasm, self-correcting nature, and the pursuit of empirical knowledge through direct observations. Their description of science as a philosophy where those who disprove existing dogma are rewarded as geniuses instead of punished as heretics struck a chord in me as well. Particularly relevant to my personal philosophy was their descriptions of how the scientific method can serve as a useful antidote to the mythological or supernatural explanations of the universe and existence which abound in human societies. As I have aged and my career has progressed, I still often think of their "invisible dragon" metaphor for beliefs which are inherently designed to be untestable. The healthy skepticism and reliance upon data rather than passion that characterize the best of science continues to be a driving force in my career and life.


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